Luke 2. The Birth and Early Life of Christ.

Key Notes: The five ritual observances of His early life. "Did you not know...?" Position of Mary in the Church.

2:1–7 Jesus' parents were compelled by Caesar Augustus' census to have the birth in Bethlehem as the prophet Micah (5:2) had foretold. Mary was due, but the birth was inconvenient; she was far from her home in Galilee, without attendants, or clean conditions. Mary birthed Jesus in a stable, wrapped Him in swaddling bands--a practice advocated even today to comfort a newborn, and bedded him in an animal trough. They may have been staying in the open court-yard of an inn (although legend says it was a cave). A cave would have been the most private place in Bethlehem, and if warmed by the animals may have been a quiet, comfortable place. The date based on Quirinius' rule is the year 6AD. It was an awkward, tenuous beginning to such an important life.

2:8–20 The shepherds were the least likely witnesses--scruffy, flea-bitten, uneducated, and marginalized men who cared for sheep. Some speculate that they were herding sheep intended for Temple sacrifice some five miles away from Jerusalem. They were told by angels to look for a newborn in a manger--surely the only one in Bethlehem. They were unusual messengers to report the song of angels and the appearance of the Savior: a rough bunch of men, unconcerned about social decorum, rambling through the town at night, noisily praising God.

2:21–52 Jesus' family performed five Old Testament rituals in His infancy and childhood:

a. Circumcision on the eighth day. It was instituted by God for Abraham and his male children and servants (Gen.17:10–14) and required in the law of Moses. Lev.12:3
Moses pointed to the spiritual significance of the rite when he admonished the Israelites to circumcise their hearts (Deut.10:16). Paul also uses the same concept when he speaks of putting off the body of flesh (Col.2:11), a symbol of the old nature.
He was named Jesus, as the angel Gabriel had commanded.

b. Mary's purification was carried out on the 40th day after his birth. (Lev.12:2–6). The spiritual significance is not clear, but the practical value of protecting the new mother and child for 40 days from all unnecessary contact, even her husband, is still recognized.

c. Dedication. Every first-born male, human and animal, was devoted to God (Ex.13:2,12) after the death of the firstborn of Egypt which redeemed Israel from slavery. Male children were to be redeemed, and if the parents were poor, only a pair of birds--doves or pigeons was required for the sacrifice. First-born animals were to be redeemed or killed. The principle is that the first of everything--fruits, vegetables, olives (Deut.26:10), as well as animals, belongs to God. {That is one reason why we take the tithe of our income first.}

d. Passover. (2:41). Ex.12 describes the original celebration which began the liberation of Israel from bondage in Egypt. Its New Testament counterpart is Easter, because the death of Christ, and His resurrection (and our liberation) was at Passover.

2:27–40 At the time of His infant dedication, Jesus was recognized by a devout older man, Simeon, and a prophetess, Anna, as being God's promised Messiah, even though He was still a newborn. Simeon's psalm rejoices first in his release from this life now that he has seen God's promised salvation. Then he turned to Mary, prophesying Jesus' controversial impact on Israel--some elevated and some cast down--and a warning to Mary that she too would suffer. Anna, on the other hand, addressed the other people in the temple who were looking forward to Christ's coming.

e. The hidden ceremony was Bar Mitzvah, when the 12–13 year-old boy was initiated into manhood by participating in the worship at synagogue or temple. It is not a part of the law of Moses, but a custom which has continued for two millennia. We believe this is the occasion described in 2:41–52 when Jesus was at the Temple at the age of 12.

2:41–52 Jesus' coming to Jerusalem for Passover at 12 is the only window into his spiritual and physical development. Twice His growth, wisdom and favor with God are mentioned. (2:40,52). Similarly John "grew and became strong in spirit." (Lk.1:80). And Samuel "continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men." (ISam.2:26). We infer that he grew up as a godly, normal child, like Samuel and John the Baptist, learning about the world and Hebrew religion in a progressive way.

When He stayed behind to participate in scholarly discussions with the teachers, He showed that His priorities were different from His parents. "Did you not know that I must be in the things of my Father's house "? (2:49). He implies three things:

a. "Did you not know": He wondered why they had not perceived by now that He had a calling. He challenged them to distinguish His future from theirs. He may have been willing to let them go off toward home in order to make that clear. They misunderstood what He was planning. What they knew in theory looked quite different in reality.

b. "I must be....": It was necessary to Him to do this as part of his spiritual growth. (Jesus used the words "I must" or "it is necessary" throughout his life to indicate His predestination.)

c. "...the things of My Father" declare to them again His relationship to God. His Father was not Joseph, not to ignore His earthly parent, or to dishonor Joseph, but to make His mission clear.
Then, He did not break away, but went obediently back home with them to complete His domestic training. Mary was puzzled, but attentive.

Discussion.

Mary became a controversial figure in Catholic history. In a logical sequence which has no Scripture basis, she was declared:
"Mother of God" in 451AD.
Perpetually a virgin. See Matt.1:25
Immaculately conceived by her mother; (that is, born without original sin). Declared in 1685 AD.
Declared Sinless, 1854 AD.
Miraculously assumed into Heaven, a dogma from 1950 AD.
Queen of Heaven (See Jer.44:17), Queen of Peace, Queen of Mercy, Queen of Angels, etc.
Co-mediatrix and Co-redemptrix, putting her on a par with Christ Himself. This is not yet official dogma.

Modern sceptics, on the other hand, have written the Virgin Birth off as legend. Protestants generally have reacted against Catholicism, and have failed to learn from the virtues that Mary's life shows, her innocence, purity and profound trust in God. But Catholics have elevated her at Jesus' expense and fueled a serious heresy (a trinity of the Father, the Son and the Virgin Mary). Jesus must get the glory, not Mary.

"We have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us." IICor.4:7